December 21, 2016

Princeton Commemorators Prepare for 240th Anniversary of Landmark Battle

REMEMBERING THE BATTLE: Re-enactors dressed as American soldiers celebrated the Battle of Princeton last January.  Beginning on the night of January 2, 2017, a week of living history events, sponsored by the Princeton Battlefield Society, the Princeton Historical Society, Morven Museum, and others will commemorate the 240th anniversary of the historic battle and related events. (Photo by Meredith Barnes of Molly Picture Studio)

At this point in 1776, still in the early days of America’s war for independence, American troops were installed in winter quarters at Valley Forge, but General Washington was already planning his Christmas night crossing of the Delaware and attack on British headquarters in Trenton that would lead to the pivotal Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777.

Local groups have been making their own plans during the past year to commemorate that battle and related events, and during the first week in January visitors and locals will have ample opportunities to immerse themselves in the history of those days and to relive the experience of General Washington, his troops and the residents of Princeton of 240 years ago.

The Princeton Battlefield Society, the Princeton Historical Society, and Morven Museum have teamed up to present a program called “Retreat through the Jerseys: Prelude to the Battle of Princeton” at the Historical Society on Thursday January 5; a series of programs led by re-enactors and historians on Saturday, January 7 to highlight the activities of British troops who occupied Princeton in 1777; an event Saturday evening at the Princeton Battle Monument on Stockton Street just north of Morven; and, early on Sunday, January 8 at the Battlefield, “The Battle, a Real Time Tour,” conducted by British Army historian William P. Tatum, accompanied by an array of re-enactors of various Continental, congressional, and British regiments to show where, when, and why events unfolded at the actual battle in 1777.

Starting off the week’s events on Tuesday night, January 2, Thomas O’Neil III, a direct descendant of Ezekiel Anderson of Lawrenceville, who was a scout in the second Continental Army, will be leading a march from Trenton to the Princeton Battlefield, where he will place a wreath on the common grave of British and American troops after dawn on January 3. A former U.S. Marine officer, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. O’Neil will be joined by Leo Bridgewater, an African-American and also an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, who, according to Mr. O’Neil, will “represent the one-quarter of the northern Continental Army of African descent” on their march from the Old Trenton Barracks.

Mr. O’Neil stated that he wanted to “remind Americans that blacks and whites worked together in the Continental Army and that unity of all Americans is possible through cooperation, perseverance, and understanding.” He added that their wreath will also honor Captain William Shippen, who died at the Battle of Princeton, the first Marine to die in a land-based battle.

Mr. O’Neil invited any interested marchers to join them, with additional information available at www.ezekiel’ or on Facebook: Ezekiel’s March. Mr. O’Neil’s ancestor Ezekiel was one of several local militiamen responsible for helping direct Washington’s men safely and covertly from Trenton to Princeton on the night of January 2-3, 1777, avoiding the British troops along the way and preparing for the next day’s attack.

Leading the Thursday January 5 event at 7:30 p.m. at the Historical Society at Updike Farm, local historian Larry Kidder, author of A People Harassed and Exhausted and the forthcoming book Crossroads of the American Revolution: Trenton 1774-1783, will give a talk on how Princeton experienced the retreat of Washington’s forces and their pursuit by the British army in November and December 1776.

Saturday’s all-day program on “The Ravages of Princeton” will take place at Morven, on Nassau Street, in Palmer Square and throughout town, as re-enactors interact with observers. At 6 p.m. at the Battle Monument, which will be lit by luminaries (electric candles in paper bags to represent the soldiers killed in the battle), Mr. Tatum will tell the story of the monument and provide a sneak peak of his Sunday morning walking tour of the Battlefield.

In the culminating event the following morning, also under the leadership of Mr. Tatum, ”You will experience the battle minute by minute, at the same time of year, and in similar weather conditions,” according to the Battlefield Society. “Learn how the Battle of Princeton, as it occurred, was not at all what Washington was expecting. Learn how these momentous events transpired and were the culmination of the Ten Crucial Days Campaign that changed history.”